Should we quit the Commonwealth?

This is a question which was raised in our Citizen’s Majlis recently in an aimless debate (the kind of useless talk politicians call debates…) which will one way or another way be answered negatively just not to be seen as politically incorrect by both MDP and their adversaries in politics. This was raised because commonwealth is seen to be taking a much uninformed approach to the political developments in the Maldives in the last few months. It seems the commonwealth diplomats were not appropriately briefed on the situation from all perspectives or that they were bombarded with too much info such that they just threw all the info they were given away and googled info the easy way. Googling (or Yahooing for that matter) info this way is prone to error and there should have been no surprise there.

But what are the practical benefits of being in Commonwealth? Here are some tidbits of info we came across along these lines.

“If they get a lot of benefits, and that you’re angry, try to think of it this way:
The Brits conquered their lands, exploited their kids, making them work in mines, killed dissenters, killed their leaders, killed the natives, brought in immigrants from China, made them work at meagre salaries, implemented the divide and rule policy to the detriment of national unity, left during the Japanese occupation, shamelessly came back to claim power after the Japs surrenderred, continued to exploit the economy.. all to satisfy the needs of the Brits during the Industrial Era.. and it lasted for 2 centuries in some countries. In other words, it’s payback time for the Brits!”
link1

“Visits from the Queen, the opportunity to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, a much better chance of winning a gold medal in the shot put because Russia, Germany and the US don’t compete in the Commonwealth Games…”
Link2

“The Commonwealth doesn’t have too many legal benefits these days, it’s mainly a friendship organization. One benefit is that if you are travelling to a country in which your own country doesn’t have an embassy, you can obtain assistance from the embassy of any commonwealth country…”
Link3

“…Only writers from Commonwealth countries can compete for the Booker Prize which is arguably the most prestigious prize for a single written work (novel) by an author. The Booker prize has the effect of propelling a writer’s career sky high.”
Link4

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Runaway processes

We have quite a number of alarming runaway process in the country . Mostly this is about politicians finding themselves in a situation like where the little boy was locked in the sweetshop. The only difference here is that our politicians are not little boys, nor are they locked in a sweet shop. We are talking about public accountability, honesty, integrity, qualities which they talk about so much but the reality does not match.

  1. The most alarming of such a processes is the People’s Majlis setting the salaries of everyone. It’s quite accepted that most of our People’s Majlis are not capable of rational discourse on technical matters such as fiddling with pay structures, but they are doing it anyhow either for greed or to make life tough for the ruling party.
  2. There is a trend in the government to sell off (not exactly but long term lease) islands across the country for developing tourism etc. as a means of fund-raising for their pet projects. Some of these projects are for like raising money for building flats for fellow countrymen or as an escape route to appease the islanders from the previous government’s promises. Such situations include airports at Thaa and Foa Mulaku atoll which perhaps were not the brightest ideas of the former administration, but anyhow they were promised to the people and the new politician’s are doing all they can to appear that they actually worked to fulfil the dreams of the people. Dream or no dream, the intention has to be honest; that if something or some project is unworthy or unrealistic it shall be explained to the people.
  3. Another and equally damaging process is the Majlis members passing and enacting laws which will not benefit the majority of the people of this country. One prime example of this fact was in the passing of the copy rights bill which stipulates unrealistically high punishments for software piracy etc. The point here is not the legitimacy but the realization of the situation of the country. This is a country like many in the world, where almost every computer runs Microsoft and the OS is likely to be a pirated copy of Windows. The funniest part is that bill was pushed through Majlis because of perceived threats to ‘Mollywood’ the equivalent of Holywood in US or Bollywood in India, which creates a bunch of ‘films’ every year which somehow all seems to have been created, directed, watched and played by the same people…

There are indeed are many such runaway processes in the country that needs to be checked. If we really cared about our country, we have to be more honest and upfront about our good intentions.

the livable wage


Despite our country swiftly becoming a recognized brand name in leisure tourism around the world, there is a lot we have to catch up with other countries in terms of how they treat their very own kind. Resorts or islands are not a new phenomenon. Some other countries also have white sands and small islands where tourists come. However ours and theirs difference seems to be how ‘they’ treat their own people. The employees who do all the hard work need a fairer deal then what they get now. In most other countries they have moved beyond the minimum wage, tackled the liveable-wage whilst we are still stuck at the minimum wage. There was one piece of small legislation timidly sent to Citizens’ Majlis which tried to figure out what the minimum wage should be for Maldives, which was duly killed by a Majlis member for apparently no reason (other than the fact that these concepts simply doesn’t register in their hollow shells…{forgive sentiment, we workers are entitled to be a little bit angry when our issues are trampled most unceremoniously by these MPs}). What is absurd about this situation is that our employers not at risk of imminent danger to their business by being mandated to follow or do better than a minimum wage. Nor is there a healthy business lobby in Majlis to kill workers interest except from MATI which is kind of a think-tank for the business folks. Even the situation being as it is, and the country enjoying a healthy unemployment rate, nobody seems to be worried about this. And there are reasons for their short-sightedness.
Reasons:
1.The govt. is too fond of playing PR for the whole world, their theme is environmental protectionism. The current government as well as the former government did the same. They all are good for PR and environmental protectionism is easy to play act. Confronting real life issues is tough and thankless and they are aware of it.
2.The parliament recently (about 2 years ago) got the freedom to set their own wages and leaves and other perks, so from then on its like the boy who got locked in a sweet shop! Why should they care when they are so much relieved from reality of life?
3.The civil service is too polarized and undecided as to where their ultimate faith shall be. For the past 30 years, they played poodles to a dictatorial regime doing only its bidding like faithful robots. They have yet to realize that they are also workers and are not any better than the rest of the crowd.

Great nations of the world arose to prominence by being generous to their own kind. In the words of Henry Ford (1863-1947, Founder of Ford Motor Company) ‎”One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers… Paying high wages is behind the prosperity of this country.”

So we need to set a minimum wage to workers. The average pay of workers in resorts is still around 3000rf per month. Which is barely survivable if the worker has his family in the islands. However lack of medical and educational facilities in the islands forces the workers to emigrate to Male’ which wipes out 50 to 80% of the average income of the family for rent.

Gangsters rulez!

Less than 24 hours after the infamous gang leader (Chica) was released there were 2 incidents of violent crime directed against news paper workers just for covering the story. Now one wonders what is happening to this country? Are we in Mexico fighting the drug war? Despite our military spending which tops even the oil rich Kuwait and Nato member Turkey as a %age of GDP, why are our armed forces not capable of controlling this thuggery in the less than 2 square kilo meter island?

To answer these questions lets analyze the context.
The problem in Mexico is about money. Mexico is bordering USA which has a big affluent market for drugs which means money in billions. But here in Maldives that context is not there. Our ‘little drug barons’ are not dealing in billions. Compared to Mexican drug dealers the likes of Chika are pimps. But the problem is why they are so powerful. Why were some of them alleged to have been protected in the past? In the case of Chicka it was alleged he was the henchman of the then “brigadier general” (a comical title..) Adam Zahir. After the transfer of power from Maumoon to Anni that protection may not be there but still they are able to intimidate witnesses, take advantage of amendments to law which were made possible only after the transition to democracy, claim the right to remain silent and have the courts re-examine the whole investigation process to manipulate the charges etc..

In our Majlis debates frequent references are made to USA as a standard bearer of many things like process, protocols etc. But those who remark on those issues fails to acknowledge that USA has a very effective history of asserting their national interests over any other principle be it the judicial process, international relations or whatever. If the USA finds a person a threat to their ‘national interest’ anywhere in the world, they will not hesitate to snatch or kidnap, detain or even assassinate that person. That is all justified under their national interest. Coming back to Maldives such realization of threat to national interest does not seem to be evident. We have had our courts throw out cases against money launderers simply because a clause in the constitution did not explicitly spell out the word ‘counterfeit money”. We have also witnessed recently how a well known ‘drug dealer’ was let free after the court failed to find fault for lack of adequate evidences despite there being lots of questions on the case. The court in effect dismissed a high profile drug dealer on a technicality. If we are to do things the American way these drug dealers might not ever be sent to court if they knew courts will release them. They might even create a special court to convict such people. However the most effective way to deal with the drug dealers is the Chinese way.

The potential for violence lies in gangsterism as well as religious extremism. In the current situation in our country, we seems to have overlooked the first one which is proliferation of gangs and gang warfare. Many deaths were claimed (closer to 50) to the gang violence in the last 3 years and each time the public simply has to absorb the shock and grief of the event. Those in authority who are charged with keeping law and order simply are not doing their job and giving themselves medals and honors and fancy titles. The situation is so bad that many areas in Male’ are simply no-go areas during the night and when the gangsters are visible on the street corner. Many homes are simply virtual prisons for their inhabitants and the occupants of the house only venturing out after calling a taxi or maybe a group of friends.

The religious extremism issue is simply a trumped up issue by the authorities to divert the attention of their own culpability. The only real violence which can ever be attributed to religious intolerance in Maldives was the home made explosive device some dejected youths detonated in our “Sultan Park” injuring a few tourists. The incident happened because of the then government’s intransigence on a local issue which is the Himandhoo mosque issue. The locals only wanted not to worship in a government designated mosque, which the locals knew was constructed on a graveyard but the government sent the “military forces” for successive 3 years (Each time in the holy fasting month) to force the worshipers out from a modest small mosque they have constructed. In the last ensuing battle with the locals and the forces our country was injured big time when foreign media took up the issue and tarnished our country’s beautiful image as a peaceful country.

Honourable mimimum wage killer

Proposing a minimum wage is a good first move our first labour law gave which under the proposed revised new laws might be scrapped as well. The wording of the original 3 clauses in the employment bill were not very helpful or forceful but its a welcome first. However those very same ineffectual clauses were too much of a concession for the workers that the independent MP Honourable Mr. Muttalib saw fit to propose to veto out of existence. Under the proposed amendments to the labour bill, there is no talk about this matter which might mean the minimum wage idea is a goner now. Pity the workers!

Majlis reboots again today


Peoples Majlis Today is the opening day of Peoples Majlis and to ‘honor’ the day all civil servants and government employees take a holiday while here in resorts, we the resort workers work hard. The first order of the business will be by the president to deliver his first ‘presidential address’ which for the last 30 years has been an extravaganza of speech by the then president Maumoon Abudul Gayoom. The talk is expected to consist mainly of gloating over the achievements of the past year and perhaps what the president wishes to do next year. Its certainly an improvement on the situation before with lots of changes to the system and the address is really worth attention.

Peoples Majlis with its prominent position now in the political landscape is in need of drastic measures to align it with peoples expectations, to allow it to be called a democratic institution. There are quite a few urgent measures which had been proposed even in the past by fair minded parliamentarians in the past. These might include addressing a few points like:

1.parliamentarians should also be required to attend to their place of work:
With the huge amounts of money spent on them from public coffers, they shall make it an obligation on themselves to deliver worth for the money they receive. This is all the more important considering our parliamentarians are not even required to attend the parliament in the first place. Perhaps they are the only group of people who earns without ever having to work.

2.Their position shall not only be to oppose the government for the fun of it.
Traditionally the role of the parliament was to say “yes” to whatever the government proposes and a few mild debates which always ends supporting the side of the government. However with the new found freedom of the Majlis, the Majlis rarely finds itself giving affirmation to government’s views even if is profoundly true and highly beneficial for the country. Their voting position now is dictated by a mixture of party politics (which needless to say also is in a precarious situation), an overzealous fondness to exercise a newly found freedom, an indescribable sense of irrationality and all shades of the above qualities…

3.while everyone took cuts on their salaries they didn’t
With the recent pay cuts by the civil service and all government employees the Majlis found itself too selfish to join the common good of the people by going without a small percentage of their income which was bloated exponentially only a few years back by the then president to make life miserable for his successor. Unashamed and yet blabbering about care and concern for the people, they still remain unrepentant about their position. This is not to say that quite a few parliamentarians actually did that by their own volition but the vast majority of the members are clearly too selfish even to consider it.

4. the best were chased away by party ticket.
Like it or like it not, our current batch of parliamentarians have more strength in their vocal cords than real substance in their gray matter. This is to state a fact considering the kind of talent, knowledge and experience which were thrown away in favor of loud mouthed people thanks to the party ticket. A most vivid example of this is the replacement by the MP Ibra with the current MP who holds his position. Ibra was an original thinker unlikely to parrot after others position and quite a loss for the country.

hurdles for city hotel tourism


Tourism in Maldives have come a long way from the days of spear wielding “environmental- terrorist” kind of pioneer days. That was a time when our government was not decided about the merit of tourism and every one was kind of like taking a wait and see kind of approach. About 3 decades back there were no such worries as pollution, stress on corals and marine life as is today with mass tourism in full swing.

Cutting a long story short, the change of the regime from Maumoon to Anni was a long awaited much anticipated move which brought with more expectations as is generally the case. With new faces in the government, a drastically changed political system, there arose the problem of finance which is needed to implement more services to the country. Every political party when assuming leadership will want to preserve their position come the next election. However the state of finance was in a precarious situation when the actual handover began and the present government had to find more ways to generate the required finances. To complicate the problem the Peoples Majlis was dominated by the opposition which is still out there just to make life as miserable for the government as possible. Of the first bills sent to Majlis to debate upon were the bills on taxation which if implemented would have been a third avenue of income for the government besides tourism and fisheries. However party politics killed hopes of that bill which is still lying dormant in the Malis waiting to be debated. This led the government to contemplate on more ways to benefit from tourism which is where the city hotel business ideas come from. Tourism in Maldives is very unique in the sense typically a whole hotel or resort is situated in one island complete with staff, utilities and everything. In theory there should be about 1000 islands where resorts can be developed as roughly 200 islands are inhabited. However the vast majority of these islands are still there unproductive for various far too many reasons only waiting to be utilized.

The idea of city hotels in inhabited islands recently came to public debate with the decision by the government to allow liquor licenses to these city hotels which is strongly criticized by the locals and the government has been forced to reconsider the decision. Its also worth noting that there are only a handful of these city hotels in Male’ and are primarily used for the business and diplomatic type of clients who would rather mind their ‘business’ than be pampered in an idyllic beach… which normally costs lots and lots of money in Maldives. Also for the ‘city hotel’ type of business to flourish in earnest there needs more to it than the sense of hopelessness by the government which seems to be the case at the moment. For such a model to work, there shall be an efficient transport network as our islands are rather small and can bore guests with a handful of landmarks in Male’ etc. Where there is lack of landmarks it shall be corrected with constructing landmarks and where there is lack of history, context has to be built for such issues which hopefully will help alleviate the void of city hotel tourism in the country. Currently apart from a few renown cemeteries there are no landmarks in Male to be shown and even the written and known histories of those places are little known and much less researched than shall have been.

Wine calls…Where is majlis now?


Faced with growing public anger against the issue of new ‘wine rules’, the president’s office is taking cover behind people’s majlis now. According to the spokesperson of the president, there are a certain “2” points which they have come to understand with the issue of new wine rules. Both points are about draft of the bill being sent to Majlis to rule on and both times the Majlis effectively rejected the bill which means they want nothing to do with the rules as the issues surrounding the bill they know can effectively kill their careers. If the bill were ever to be debated in the Majlis, proponents of the bill (who would likely be MDP parliamentarians) will have a hard time escaping from a barrage of accusations from DRP which will range from all shades of kufr, sedition, cessation to high treason. Even if the tables were reversed with MDP charging and DRP defending, it would be the same charges, accusations and counter-accusations. Ultimately this is not about love of culture or respect of religion or listening to the grass-root voices. This is about politics and both sides are taking advantage of our feelings.

Peoples Majlis according to a recent interview by the prominent politician turned academic Ibra is perhaps the most failed organ of our country. With the recent economic downturn which had the government in a frenzy of cost-cutting measures saw everyone making sacrifices on their pay whilst the fat salaried parliamentarians did not saw fit to join saving a few rufiyaas for the sake of the country.

To climb up on the coorporate ladder…

“Have you chosen our resort as a career path ? Or would this be just another job…” Its standard question in many a job interview and the answer shall always be that the applicant would indeed want the position on offer to be his career path. No other answer is necessary and nothing else is expected. Its sometimes amazing how grown up people cannot grasp the eccentricity of the answers and the questions a typical job interview could unearth but its always taken in stride. For the applicant the situation demands it and for the interviewer its just part of the job. But how easy its to climb up on the corporate ladder and how rough a ride is the average career path of a resort employee?

Like all things in resort life, nothing is certain and the least that could be certain is of course the job or the career. What is needed for the doubt and suspense to end along with the career is sometimes a simple expression. “You are fired!”. What will follow is the termination papers and whatever is due as salary and that’s basically the end. Up until this very moment situation in resorts across Maldives is somewhat similar to this. Staff could be fired for anything and recourse to litigation is not something average Maldivians can afford.

To some extent how the staff can be hired can also be as hassle free if the right strings are pulled. This is true of Bangladeshis as well as Indians, Sri Lankans and Maldivians. To be hired if one is a Maldivian he or she should preferably have a close family member high up in the management hierarchy and if an expatriate than certain amounts of money will have to change hands before the deal is done.

What is important to note is that despite all the correct noises being made and the bills (not utility bills…) passed by the majlis, tourism industry in Maldives is still being steered as it was done before. What if anything changed, its the terminology and nothing else. Hence and for the reasons mentioned above, the way to climb up on the corporate ladder shall be obvious. What is required on the part of the employee is to be a “yes man” or a “yes woman” (to be affirmative no matter what..) The employee should not take it to heart all the good things preached so frequently by the management that they have to treat the resort property with as much loving and care as it were their own. Such advice are only good on paper and should be implemented if only there were witnesses to bear it or mangers passing by to notice it. The goal of the employee shall not be to be a do gooder. But to be seen as one! And that’s an important distinction.

TEAM press release

team-logo
Ref:T.E.A.M/005/2008

Tourism employees association of Maldives (T.E.A.M)

PRESS RELEASE

The constitution of the Republic of Maldives and the laws and regulations under it should be followed by all persons living in the Maldives. Therefore, not abiding by the Laws and regulations is perceived by this Association as a gross violation.

The Association strongly condemns all the activities by Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) to restrain and denigrate the efforts by the employees of resorts in Maldives to gain their rights due to their exclusion from the Employment Law. The employees of resorts are working for their rights with patience and responsibility, doing so within the limitations of the legal framework.

This Association sadly denotes that till present, MATI has not made any efforts for the rights of the thousands of Maldivian employees working in resorts. Whilst this has been the situation, the current policy of MATI is to restrain, in any way possible, the efforts by the employees of the tourism sector to obtain their rights. As MATI has not made any efforts towards creating qualified employees to work in resorts in its 25 years of existence, this is a clear indication of the lack of concern by MATI for the employees of resorts.

In relation to the allegations made against this Association by MATI on the 18th of November (Ref: MATI/RH/205/2008), we would like to point out that this Association was also established under the same laws and regulations as MATI. Therefore, MATI does not have any higher legal status than T.E.A.M, even though the actions of MATI give the impression that it has some special privileges.

Further, regarding the circular of MATI to its member’s dated the 2nd of December, 2008 (Ref: MATI/XX/246/2008), it is not a crime to stop work in peaceful protest when the employer at a work place does not follow the laws. Even if MATI views it as illegal, the laws of Maldives do not forbid the right to strike. And hence, T.E.A.M calls upon MATI to further review the laws and regulations thoroughly. Meanwhile, it is a right of every employee to do everything he could if and when he feels his rights stipulated under the Maldives Labour Law have been violated. However, MATI described the peaceful protests for employees’ rights by some resort employees as violence. Despite MATI’s view, T.E.A.M believes that the protests were in accordance with the right to strike stipulated within the threshold of the Maldivian laws.

T.E.A.M does not perceive that tourism sector employees are entitled to special immunities and privileges. However, following the initiatives of T.E.A.M, the Maldives government has acknowledged the need for further advancement of tourism sector employees.

TEAM notes that the Press Release issued by the Labour Relations Authority was issued without proper investigation and misleading. The reality is, during the past seven months, T.E.A.M has held several meetings with all relevant authorities, lobbying to amend the Employment Act, and urging resorts to comply with the Law. Furthermore, T.E.A.M has on several occasions appealed to resorts to comply with the Employment Act.

In addition to this, on 8th of October 2008, T.E.A.M filed complaints against the resorts that were not complying with the Law to the Labour Relations Authority. In response to this (NO: L-2008/4629), Labour Relations Authority ensured that it would take the necessary steps required to address this issue. However, T.E.A.M regrets that whilst different resorts interpret the Act differently and are not complying with it, the Labour Relations Authority did not make appropriate interventions. In this regard, some parties regard speed boat crew as seamen.

T.E.A.M notes that the formation of a Labour Tribunal is still pending, while the institution should have been formed months ago.

In the MDP’s News Conference following the Reethi Rah work stoppage, the address by three parliamentarians of the Party contradicted the viewpoints they expressed in the Parliament. These parliamentarians actively participated in protests, and spoke in favour of protests in the Majlis. While these parliamentarians have also described the current constitution as the “constitution of protest”, the comments made in the above mentioned Press Conference that the Reethi Rah work stoppage was politically motivated leaves their integrity in question. T.E.A.M perceives this comment as prioritising their own interest above that of ours. We deny this allegation by MDP.

On this occasion, T.E.A.M would like to assure that without standing back, we shall do whatever is required to achieve the rights of tourism sector employees.

December 16, 2008

MATI trying to rewrite labour law.

mati

Imagine the students of a particular school were given the opportunity to write the school rules for teachers! Imagine how much fun they will have doing that?
Quite similar is the case of MATI which is trying to rewrite the labour law according to their whims and wishes. And the saddest thing is there seems to be little public debate or awareness about this issue. So lets start from the beginning.

MATI or Maldives Association of Tourism Industry is a group of elitist business people in Maldives who to all known extents are known to serve their interests first second and even last. The former government had close contacts with these elitists and when the current government assumed power most of the elitists found themselves on the wrong side of the divide which is why the group seems to toothless at the moment.  However it will be only a matter of time before they regain their former positions thanks in large measures to the sorry state of the economy of the country.

Now where and when MATI started dabbling with labour law is quite known. The labour law was drawn and sent to Majlis and passed hastily by the then government controlled Majlis all inside a carefully orchestrated political drama a few known or cared about. But the implications of the law seems to be creeping up to places most people never thought about. Hence she was quite right when the newly appointed Attorney General said that although MATI has raised many objections to the labour law it has failed to name one offending clause of the law. MATI took hint from this and has started the arduous task of re-writing law to which they have no mandate! They are not writing law per se  but lobbying the Majlis members and the government to change the law to make it suits them. As they are organized unlike the resort workers are and they have well oiled machinery to carry out these sorts of undertakings those who shall be concerned shall be concerned. What is at stake is hard fought freedoms and liberties the labour law gave.